The unflappable Jihad Ali is Panthers' leading man
By Marcus Key | Photo by Steve Thackston
Basketball icon and NBA Hall of Famer Larry Bird once said, "Leadership is getting players to believe in you ... again and again."
Senior Jihad Ali, a two-time team captain and go-to-guy on the men's basketball team, has inspired that ongoing belief - and hasn't had to turn up the volume to do it.
"Jihad is a quiet, confident leader," says Ron Hunter, the Panthers' head coach. "The players see that quiet confidence, and sometimes, you need that."
Ali, a 6-foot-5 guard and former DeKalb County Class AAAAA Player of the Year from Martin Luther King Jr. High School in Lithonia, Ga., has been a calm and steady influence for the Panthers during a wild season in which the team set a school record for consecutive wins.
"I try to be that person that others can look up to," Ali says, quietly. "The kind of guy that always leads by example."
On the road against VCU, a Final Four team last season, Ali did just that - he scored 17 points and grabbed 11 rebounds to lead the Panthers to its record-breaking 11th consecutive victory. At the four-minute mark of the second half, with the Rams closing in on a four-point GSU lead, Ali coolly knocked down a three pointer to stave off the run.
"Players need to see that," Hunter says. "No matter how bad the situation gets, he is always going to remain even-keel."
The win also served as notice to the conference that these are Panthers to be reckoned with. Besides helping his team break a record, Ali has established a new individual record: He broke the GSU record for games played at 122.
"That means a lot to me," he says. "It's exciting to know that I've had that opportunity."
Ali says he acquired his love for sports at an early age when he would compete against his two siblings. His older brother, Fareed Jr., went on to play football at Bucknell University, and his sister, India, played basketball at conference rival Hofstra.
"Growing up, it was real competitive. I took a lot of beat-downs," he says, holding back a smile. "I really didn't get too many victories until I got a little bit taller. After that I pretty much was the guy to beat in the family."
Leadership on the court is only part of the equation for Ali. He also sets an example for his teammates in the classroom. He has already earned his bachelor's in finance and, this spring, began working toward a master's degree in sports administration. He takes his education just as seriously as his jump shot.
"Education is important; it's something that can never be taken away from you," he says. "And it gives you something to fall back on."
Ali's academic achievements include making the Dean's List in 2008 and 2010, being named to the CAA All-Academic second team in 2010 and earning the CAA Commissioner's Academic Award in 2008 and 2010.
"When you go to Webster's Dictionary and you look up the definition of student-athlete, you will see Jihad's face there," Hunter says. "As a coach, he is the type of student-athlete that you would want your daughter to marry."